The Fiction

That Gum You Like Is Going to Come Back In Style

Black Jack Beemans Clove gums photo by Joseph D'Agnese

Tod Fisher, the detective in my book The Mesmerist, apparently has a fondness for old-fashioned chewing gum, specifically the three brands now produced by Cadbury Adams. 

From what I understand, these gums aren’t hugely popular today, but they do sell enough for the manufacturers to justify making them in batch quantities every couple of years. 

Clove gum tastes like, well, cloves, the spiky spice you’ve tasted in Christmas wassail concoctions or else in various holiday ham dishes. Black Jack tastes like licorice or, more formally, anise. And Beeman’s tastes like wintergreen, the flavoring in birch beer.

I got hooked on these gums back in the early nineties when, if I’m not mistaken, Black Jack was referenced in the David Lynch’s TV show Twin Peaks. (See the video here.)

Black Jack Beemans Clove gums photo by Joseph D'Agnese

I enjoy them but I don’t find them in stores that often; when I do I buy a handful of packs. Yes, you can order them bulk online, but somehow that feels like defeating the purpose. These are gums that ought to bought from a barrel in a quaint general store, or a modern store that’s ably faking that milieu.

When I was writing The Mesmerist, I gave Fisher an affinity for “nostalgic” gums, since so much of his personality is about squelching things from his past. But the novelty gums quickly worked their way into the plot. At one point, the flavor of Clove gum triggers one of the cop’s sense memories. At another, the gum plays a critical role in an escape.

If you spot them anywhere in the real world, you ought to try them. They’re just plain tasty.


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The Mesmerist is live! (Sort of.)

The Mesmerist by Joseph D'Agnese

My new e-book, The Mesmerist, is live on Amazon. It’s been published to B&N and Smashwords as well, but will take a while to filter through to those stores. 

Both of my novels could use some reviews, so I’m making a limited-time offer: If you’d like a free copy of either Jersey Heat or The Mesmerist in exchange for your honest review on Amazon and Goodreads, kindly contact me via my contact page and I’ll send you a file for your device. If you want to participate but don’t “do” devices, write me anyway and I’ll hook you with a tidy PDF version. (Paperbacks coming soon; I promise.) And no, I’m not afraid that you might hate the books. I need reviews of all kinds, good and bad.

Here’s the pitch:

Are you a think—or an unthink?

On the streets of New York City in the 1970s, this is the only question that matters.

In the age of disco, the city has become home to an underground culture of gifted individuals who can kill with a glance or heal with a touch.

A vicious madman is sucking the life out of his victims—crushing their hearts, withering their bodies, and leaving their corpses old before their time.

All with the power of his mind.

Now a skeptical young cop and a federal agent obsessed with the occult must run the killer to ground before they find themselves facing the unthinkable.

An 85,000-word urban fantasy noir by the author of the eco-thriller, Jersey Heat.

This full-length novel is intended for mature audiences.

If you’re looking for more discussion on this, I can tell you that the book is set in New York, 1979, which was an interesting time in the city’s history. It’s the age of disco, the age of the city’s most famous serial killer (Son of Sam), and the time of America’s first great oil crisis. (A gallon of gasoline hit $1 for the first time that year, which had devastating knock-on affects for the American psyche.) 

New York City was in a fiscal nightmare. Trash littered the streets; graffiti was rampant. Most of the parks New Yorkers treasure today crawled with drug dealers. The city was a crime-ridden dump because the middle class was fleeing the island for the suburbs, taking their tax dollars with them. The disaster of America’s involvement in Vietnam had wrapped up in 1975, but the effects of that war were still impacting the nation’s politics. Nixon was out of office, and Americans had elected a mild-mannered peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, as their president.

And yet, at the same time, it was a time of great flowering for artists such as Warhol, Hockney, and Serra. Gehry and Pei were designing some of their greatest architecture, and the World Trade Center was nearing completion in lower Manhattan. Part of the novel touches on the art scene of the time.

And I intend to follow up this book with two others in a trilogy, featuring the book’s two occult detectives, Soul and Fisher.

As Fisher and Soul try to track their killer, they’re forced to make sense of the killer’s powers by researching books on psychic phenomenon. So there’s kind of a bizarre paper chase going on in the plot.

When I was a child my father was obsessed with psychic phenomenon, and I suppose I absorbed this stuff by osmosis. He devoured old books about men like Emile Coue, the father of autosuggestion; Edgar Cayce, a psychic who claimed to “read” books by sleeping on them; Edmund Shaftesbury, a quack and charlatan who tried to teach people the power of “personal magnetism”; and Thomson Jay Hudson, a skeptic who tried to make sense of these bullshit claims. 

In my book, of course, all this stuff is treated as if it is true. Fisher, the cop, is the skeptic; Soul, the FBI man, is a believer.

You can page through Hudson’s book here, and see some of those old-fashioned print block designs they used in books of that period, if that interests you…
Sample page 1

Sample page 2

Sample page 3

I hope this is a good introduction to the concepts of this book. I’ll be back in a few day or so to talk about the art world connections.

Oh—in the time it took me to write this post, I sold a copy on Smashwords. Yay.


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Coming Soon: The Mesmerist

The Mesmerist by Joseph D'Agnese

The Mesmerist is an urban fantasy noir novel that I’ll be releasing this month. The story is set in an alt-version of 1979 New York City, in an era when looks can kill and hands can heal. 

I’ll be posting some more details as they’re ready.

I bow, as always, to the incredible talent of book cover designer, Jeroen ten Berge.


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New Novel: Jersey Heat

Jersey Heat, novel by Joseph D'Agnese

Today marks the debut of my new book, Jersey Heat, a mystery/thriller that takes place in and around a fictional town in New Jersey.

I’m really excited about this book, because, while it’s not the first novel I’ve ever written, it’s the first I’ve shared with the public. The book’s available today via Amazon and B&N for the ridiculous price of $2.99. Over the next few days, it will slowly migrate to most other venues, such as Kobo, Smashwords, etc.

There are some really neat bonuses that come with the digital version, which I’ll describe briefly. First, the book features a gorgeous cover by artist/designer Jeroen ten Berge. In a few days I’ll be running an interview with Jeroen.

The book includes a free preview of Haven House, a new horror novel by Stuart Connelly. It’s a horror story with a twist: a mix of The Lottery, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Shining all wrapped into one. I dare you to stop after reading the first horrifying chapter.

Lastly, I’m offering a freebie with this ebook. Your purchase entitles you to a free copy of The Scientist & the Sociopath, a collection of my best nonfiction science stories, from magazines such as Discover, Wired, and Seed. All you have to do is send me proof that you’ve bought Jersey Heat, and I’ll mail you a coupon good for Scientist.

Here’s the pitch for Jersey Heat:

It’s a hazy, hot, and humid summer in New Jersey, circa 1993.

No mobile phones.

No Internet.

No Caller ID.

No DVDs.

No terrorists.

And the environment isn’t cool.

Luke Mulcek calls himself a businessman. He’s actually a thug in a suit, a former Brooklyn kid, ex-boxer, and mechanic who made good. Luke’s got an in at the water company in a dinky town, where he’s concocted a $200 million land deal to build condos on the reservoir. Ramming the plan through the town’s planning board is the tricky part. Shadow Lakes isn’t Brooklyn, and even before page one Mulcek has decided to cut through the red tape the way he would have done in the old neighborhood. 

With payoffs, threats, blackmail — and murder.

A retired cop and a young slacker are all that stand between Mulcek and his violent grasp at the good life.

Mulcek’s undoing — and the key to this environmental thriller — is a creature from the skies, bred by nature to be the ultimate killing machine.

The strength of this book lies in its voices: Cops, thugs, Brits, gigolos, ghetto kids, scientists and lawyers all come to life in a world that feels part Elmore Leonard, part Carl Hiassen, and 100 percent New Jersey.

Note: Both Jersey Heat and Haven House are intended for mature readers. Both feature scenes of sexuality, violence and strong dialogue.


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